Charles Fleisher was on the phone. And he did not like what he was hearing.
“…which is why you are not to egress to the new facility,” his contact with The Alliance concluded. Charles took a moment to let those words sink in. His free hand clenched in an angry fist, almost in spite of himself. Still, it served to remind him that there was some merit to The Alliance’s panic: not terribly long ago he hadn’t had a hand to clench. Or the arm it was attached to.
Regeneration was a splendid supernatural ability, but it irked Charles immensely whenever things had devolved to the point where his had to mend something.
“I can assure you, there is no pursuit,” Charles said calmly — reassuringly. He had a small urge to scream: He suspected that he had internalized the witch Katherine’s hatred of Abigail into his own psyche. Of course, Katherine’s hate was born out of jealousy and irrationality. Charles’ was born of the fact that Abigail. Ruined. Everything.
Charles forced himself to breathe out, and then back in again slowly. It wasn’t helping anything that this time it was The Alliance itself that was throwing his immediate plans into disarray — but at least it wasn’t Abigail again!
“Although the extraction was… rocky,” Charles continued, “after we dealt with the funeral home and the Salvatore matriarch we made a clean escape.” He managed to keep his temper out of his voice. His night had been too stressful by far, and he could feel dawn aproaching. Maybe that was why he was feeling so paranoid, now: a vampire’s natural responce to the rising of the sun. He did his best to ignore the tiny bit of him that worried that he was wrong, that the wards around his team’s van weren’t hiding them from magical dowsing charms; that Abigail was somehow coming after him.
Impossible, Charles reassured himself. Elaine Salvatore only came to the funeral home because they could identify the remains of the wizard we used to power our ambush. We were not followed there, and we are not being tracked now. We cannot be dowsed for as long as we remain within warded confines.
“They found you once,” the person on the other end of the line contradicted him. “And while you were dealing with Elaine Salvatore, Abigail ventured into the funeral home. We have reports that she recovered Linda’s corpse.”
“What?!” Charles yelped: his composure utterly lost. Abigail?!
“You do see why this means you cannot fall back to the facility you established to relocate the Hope team,” The Alliance’s representative answered him. “Do you not? Their medium may have already summoned and interrogated your ex-wife’s spirit. She knew your phone number. The Center may be using the same method to track you as you used to find and terminate her.”
Charles’ heartbeat slowed to a stop. His breathing did, too.
“What’s more,” Charles’ contact continued, “immediately after reconnecting with their medium our remaining agent in The Center’s dispatch network reported that Abigail — along with the medium, Elaine Salvatore, and at least three Scions — went to the ritual site looking for more evidence of our interests in the area. And from there she returned to Hope Community Hospital.”
Charles trembled slightly as he held in his urge to scream. Fortunately, it was probably unnoticeable over the general jarring of his team’s van as it sped down the highway. How? How was it that Abigail. Was. Unraveling. Everything?!
Everything he’d done to cover up The Center’s tracks, and somehow Abigail interfered with all of it. She’d shown up at the hospital once before, delaying the final phase of that facility’s transfer of materials and research. That delay had prevented him from ‘liberating’ Katherine until after Abigail had shown up at Director Salvatore’s house, forcing him to act overtly and preventing him from framing Katherine for the ‘disappearance’ of the Directors Salvatore and Lewellyn’s remains. And now it turned out that she’d recovered the remains of Linda, which he’d left behind in a fire to be destroyed?! And then returned to the hospital again — it couldn’t be coincidence. It couldn’t be.
Charles hated her.
And a tiny part of him that he did not want to acknowledge was growing more and more terrified of her every time her name came up.
“Everyone,” Charles tilted the phone down to his jaw and addressed his team. “Phones. Dispose of them. Now. Burners only from here out.” He pulled his own personal phone — the one he’d used to call Linda while one of his mortal snipers took her out — and passed it to one of his current team’s members.
At least… at least Salvatore, Lewellyn, and Katherine had all been in the van sent ahead while the rest of us torched the evidence at the funeral home. So they would have gotten away: no one with them would have had a GPS enabled device that The Center could possibly know to track, and their vehicle was just as securely warded as his own. At least that much had gone right!
“Go to ground,” The Alliance’s coordinator told Charles firmly. “We’re already evacuating the facility you had set up. When we are confident that you are clear, we’ll bring you back in. Until then, if you are found your team is a cut out. There will be no further contact until we initiate it. Do not aproach Alliance facilities: everything in the area is being withdrawn because of the exposure our organization has suffered under your watch.” The coordinator’s voice was hard and judgemental — but Charles knew he and his team wouldn’t be abandoned indefinately. Despite their recent spate of failures, their skills and abilities were valuable. They would be called back in. This exile was just a precaution, not a punishment.
“When it is deemed apropriate,” The Alliance contact finally concluded, “we will contact you.” Then the phone went dead as the call was disconnected from the other end.
We can’t be tracked, Charles tried to reassure himself. Once the phones had their sim cards stripped, crushed, and the devices themselves had been thrown out the van’s front passenger window he tried again. We can’t be tracked. Our mission is simple. Go to ground. Wait.
It would be easy. It would. In this van alone they had enough firepower, tech, and supernatural might to conquer a small town without effort. Hell, he was a vampire: they could enthrall a small town and leave no one the wiser.
Plus…. Abigail was still back in the city. She wouldn’t be there to mess things up again.
“Everyone,” Charles said calmly. “I know you all heard that.” Everyone in his second team — the team that had prepared the inital extraction of Director Salvatore and Director Lewellyn’s remains — had supernatural hearing, after all. “For the immediate future, we are on our own. Jamison, pull off at the next exit. Andrews, once we find some wifi to hijack, locate an apropriate facility for us to commandeer. West of here. If they were tracking us by GPS, we don’t want to continue traveling in a straight line.”
Charles felt the van’s change in direction as Jamison changed lanes. Easy, Charles told himself. Simple. He had a plan. It only extended a few hours into the future, but that meant there was no way Abigail could somehow deduce and counter it. That was the trick. It had to be. They would go to ground in some small town far away from where they’d ditched the phones, and after a week or two they’d be extracted to an Alliance campus. And they would not leave that safety until the Alliance was ready to move in the open: when it was too late for anyone to interfere with the organization’s objectives.
…But outside of the van, it was already too late for Charles’ plan.
Pips grinned maniacally as his clawed hooves pounded on the pavement: half running and half throwing himself forward to maintain speed. He didn’t know why his prey had abruptly tossed a bunch of phones out of their window, but he’d smashed a few just for the fun of it as he ran over them. Abigail had been right: he didn’t have any problem keeping up with the vehicle he’d been told to follow, even at highway speeds.
What’s more: he was confident that no one knew he was even there. Invisibility is so useful, he thought. And even his footsteps, despite the force with which they struck and gouged the pavement, were silent.
Pips had even deliberately looked for himself in the mirror of another vehicle, and all that he’d been able to see was his smile: A wide, jagged curve of razor teeth that stretched up his muzzle. And somehow he knew that even though his invisibility wasn’t perfect, he would never be spotted before he wanted to be. It was one of this form’s powers.
After all, he recited one of Abigail’s own thoughts to himself, No one ever notices a chupacabracorn….
…until it’s too late.